‘The most trusted man in America’ has permanent home at Western
By Joyce Stevenson
September 16, 2013
Born in St. Joseph, Walter Cronkite was not only “the most trusted man in America” he was also affectionately called by millions worldwide, “Uncle Walter”.
Leah Spratt Hall is undergoing a major atrium renovation to make way for the Walter Cronkite Memorial. The memorial will honor Cronkite’s journalism career and house memorabilia associated with him.
This is the brainchild of Dr. Robert Vartabedian, Western president. He and his team have worked closely with the Cronkite family as well as CBS. He becomes animated when he speaks about the memorial.
“I think he is the most significant journalist of the 20th century,” Dr. Vartabedian said. “I think it could be very interesting in terms of busloads of people coming here to be part of the Cronkite Memorial and see whats going on.”
Cronkite was the CBS evening news anchor for 19 years (1962-1981). He began his career as a newspaper carrier in Kansas City when he was 9 years old. He said he knew he wanted to be a reporter from the age of 6. The museum will showcase the journalists life.
“There will be this huge display of Cronkite when he came to St. Joe in 1969 responding to Spiro Agnu’s attack on free press.” Vartabedian said, “we will have this real image of Cronkite appearing at the St. Joseph Chamber, ‘He referred to himself as the kid from St. Joe coming home’.”
Gordon Mabely, dean and executive director of the Western Institute said that the project has grown from a few pieces of art to an entire museum. Spratt will be open 7 days a week to accommodate visitors.
“As it goes, it grows,” Mabely said. “so, it’s become actually a memorial/museum.”
Mabely also says that plans are being made for a traveling display. Details are being worked out involving funding and logistics possibilities. Jerry Pickman, Vice President for University Advancement has been working closely with donors to secure the funds for the display. Mabely said all of the museum costs are being paid by private contributions.
The focal point of the entire memorial will be several pieces of original artwork that Eric Fuson, Art Instructor and David Harris, Assistant Professor of Art and Ceramics are working on.
“He’s a great representative for St. Joseph, a very positive role model in what he did and the events he covered.” Fuson said, “It’s just such a broad span of American history that he covered that I think that people that start looking into him don’t realize how far his career goes into just what shapes us as a country. It’s another way to see some of these things you are already studying in school.”
Cronkite reported many events to America from 1937 to 1981 including World War II, the Korean and Vietnam War, Watergate, the Moon landings and the murders of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lennon. The display cases will be rotated with various donated and loaned memorabilia on a monthly basis.
“I think people will have a nostalgic sort of connection to things that remember him,” Brown said, “and for those people that don’t I think it will give them an idea of what actually went on during his life.”
A private dedication ceremony will be held Sunday, November 3rd and a public dedication ceremony will be held Monday, November 4th which would have been Cronkite’s 97th birthday. He died in July of 2009.
His closing phrase was known by all who ever listened to him, ‘And that’s the way it is’.